Amazon’s ‘fulfillment centers’ more like ‘slave camps’

David Streitfeld writes: On its home territory, is routinely hailed as a jobs machine. Thanks to its warehouse building spree, it is hiring tens of thousands of workers, plus many more for the holidays. President Obama, speaking at the retailer’s Chattanooga, Tenn., warehouse in July, called Amazon “a great example of what’s possible.”

Referring to an Amazon program that offers tuition assistance to hourly workers, Mr. Obama said, “That’s the kind of approach that we need from America’s businesses.” He also celebrated the company’s achievement in general, saying, “I look at this amazing facility and you guys, you don’t miss a beat.”

The recession might have cut deeper in Europe, making the question of new jobs even more crucial, but the attitude there is much cooler toward Amazon and its high-tech ways. In Germany, there is continuing labor strife. France is erecting barriers against the company’s aggressive discounting. And in Britain, the warehouses that so impressed President Obama have been compared, in a February story in The Financial Times, with a “slave camp.”

That shocking charge resurfaced in the latest investigation, when a BBC reporter, Adam Littler, went to work briefly at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse. His report, broadcast this week on the show “Panorama,” showed him hustling to keep up with the demands of his hand-held scanner, which gave him only a few moments to find each product.

In his ten-and-a-half-hour night shift, Mr. Littler said: “I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles, just short of 11 miles last night. I’m absolutely shattered.” He added, “We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves.”

Michael Marmot, a labor expert identified by the BBC as “one of Britain’s leading experts on stress at work,” told the show that with “the characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.” [Continue reading…]

In August, Democracy Now! interviewed Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland on her undercover investigation:

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